TV host who organised murders for crime show dies

A former TV crime show host who organised killings to boost his ratings has died of a heart attack.

Wallace Souza, 51, was the host of a popular Brazilian programme which featured him railing against violence and routinely included exclusive footage from the scenes of murders, killings which police later found he had ordered.

Souza, also accused of drug trafficking, repeatedly said he was innocent, but turned himself over to police in October after he lost the immunity from prosecution he held as a state legislator.

Police said Souza - who died in hospital while awaiting trial - organised a death squad to carry out the execution of other drug traffickers.

Souza's crimes served him in two ways: They eliminated rivals and boosted ratings.

Souza became a media personality after a career as a police officer that ended in disgrace.

He started the show "Canal Livre" (Free Channel) in the 1980s on a local commercial station in Manaus, the capital of Brazil's largely lawless Amazonas state. It became extremely popular among Manaus' 1.7 million residents before going off the air late in 2008 as police intensified their investigation.

Souza turned his TV fame into a career in the state legislature, getting elected three times - twice with the most votes of any lawmaker in the state. At the same time, he remained a fixture on television.

The show often featured exclusive footage of arrests, crime scenes and drug seizures.

One clip showed a reporter approaching a freshly burned corpse, covering his nose with his shirt and breezily remarking that "it smells like barbecue".

Police say the victim was one of the five allegedly murdered at Souza's behest.

In an interview last year, Souza denied any role in that killing and all others. He said his reporters managed to get so quickly to crime scenes because of well-placed sources and monitoring scanners for police radio dispatches.

The show also posted workers at police stations, and at the Manaus morgue, where word often came first about newly discovered bodies.

Souza had been in hospital since March 18 suffering from a liver illness.

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